Camping. I have been waiting for this episode for a long time. The first thing I can say is thank god it didn't happen on my season. Camping is not really in my blood. I grew up in New York City. We didn't camp. Camp for me was spending the summer away from my parents (well, basically being shipped off so they wouldn't have to deal with us) at some fancy sleep away camp in New England. I don't think I ever once spent a night under the stars, at least from what I can remember when I was a child. We slept in bunks. We rarely ate outside. We had dances in the mess hall. We went swimming, you know all the things that good little spoiled New Yorkers do during the summer, but we never slept in a tent. Not once. Then, as an adult ... I decided to tackle camping, for fun. Just to say I did it once. So I went out, bought hundreds of dollars of camping equipment and took off to camp. We basically ended up in someone's backyard sleeping by a river in Sonoma and all night I was terrified that a bear was going to eat me, or worse yet, Jason from Friday the 13th was going to axe me up into a million pieces. That was the first, and last, time I have ever gone camping ... I'll leave it to the professionals, or at the very least the chefs of Top Chef Vegas. I think if I were there, I would be more terrified of the tepees then the actual challenge.
Cactus. Oy. What a Quickfire. Well done loyal TC viewers. Way to throw a curveball at the chefs. I like that Bravo is letting the viewers choose the challenge for once. It seems to me after all the seasons the show has been on the air, that finally involving the audience is a good way to keep people interested. Cactus is a tough ingredient to work with and I think that given the challenge, the chefs did a great job. Mike Isabella's win unfortunately helped keep his ego in an inflated position where it's been pretty much all season. Laurine ... where did you come from? It's been four episodes so far and we have barely seen or heard anything from you, and then you end up on top twice? Well done girl; it's nice to see a different woman on top for once. However, on the flip side of that ... I guess I now understand why it may have been frustrating for you at home to watch me make the same thing a few times ... because watching Ron make fish again is starting to get really, really old. Not only is he making fish again, he is overcooking fish again .. .and I still cannot understand him! Where are those subtitles Bravo, huh? I don't know if anyone else noticed this, but does Mike V. seem a little down on himself this episode? I know that ending up in the bottom three even for a Quickfire really sucks, but he seems to be having a hard time with it, which I get, trust me. Being a passionate professional is really hard when you are competing on TC. But, just watching his interviews I am getting the feeling that something bad may happen. I think it'll be really interesting to see someone like him, who is clearly very, very gifted go home early. I have a sneaking suspicion that one of the top players (in my eyes they are: the brothers V., Jenn, Kevin, and Mike I, but only sometimes) may get the big boot sometime very soon ... and it's going to throw quite a wrench into the game when folks like Robyn, Ron, and Mattin are still around.
Onto the elimination ... I for one know how hard it is to not know what to expect in terms of your cooking environment. When we did the farm challenge last season when I was on Team chicken, the entire car ride to the farm was Stefan saying, in a very heavy accent, "Where are we going? What are we doing? We are going to have to rub two sticks together. There won't be anywhere to cook. We are going to be stranded outside blah blah blah" I can't even begin to tell you how much I wanted to smack him in that car ride up to Stone Barns. I thought he would never shut up. I think Carla and I were ready to rip our hair out by the time we got there. It's an incredibly nerve-wracking place to be in when you are told to cook for two dozen people in an hour and a half with absolutely NO knowledge of what to expect. Then to be forced to spend the night in a tent? In the hot ass desert? No thanks ... hello scorpions, snakes, bugs? Ugh. That had to add to the stress of the challenge. Something to be said about challenges like this: they really are not a good testament to what kind of chef someone is. They are a way of showcasing who is versatile and ingenious and can think swiftly on their feet and make do with uneasy situations. That's why someone with a background in catering would do well on a challenge like this. On a daily basis as a caterer, you are thrown curveballs and you make do ... it's part of the gig and the reason I believe Laurine was so successful at this elimination.
Most of the food, in my opinion (remember I am entitled to these) looked boring. Bryan's dish looked solid and his pork looked perfectly cooked. I thought Jenn's dish sounded really interesting and I love her use of tomato water as an element, a perfect way to cool off in 110 degree desert heat. I also found the use of dashi by Mike V. to be a cool idea. On the other hand, the sandwiches made by Mike I. and Eli were easily something any cafeteria could have pumped out for lunch, and in turn seemed pedestrian to me. I thought Ashley's play on a BLT was cool, and I loved the idea of the braised lettuce. I always think it's cool when someone cooks lettuce, at least when it works .... Robin, I think you didn't do that technique so well and I feel for you when they said your shrimp tasted like chlorine ... that's never a good compliment. But, I gotta say, the worst offense was Mattin's. Dude, Tom spit out your food! I for one thought that was just a Padma/Ariane thing, but when Tom spits something out it cannot be good. Sorry buddy, I am sitting on the edge of my seat here because have no idea who got sent home. My guess would be Robin, but I think it could easily be a toss up between her and Mattin. As for the winner, I am leaning towards a woman this time ... and I hope that's true. It would be really nice to see a girl take one of these eliminations for once. I'm just glad I get to watch from the dust-free bug-free and murderer-free safety of my living room and didn't have to play along down on the ranch.
In response to some of the comments from last week's blog:
Yes, I am still the executive chef at Absinthe in SF. You can check out our Web site here: www.absinthe.com. Yes, Stefan and I are actually still very good friends. In fact I saw him two weeks ago in L.A. at his new restaurant ... and I agree that we did have some really great banter, at least the times I could understand him. Finally, no, I am not single.
Keep the comments coming! I'll do my best to answer them each week ... and follow me on Twitter if you want: @chefjamielauren.